heart of africa

updates on my summer adventure in uganda, the heart of africa

mountains of the moon

this post is long, really long and it took a really, really long time to put together but hopefully it will shed some light on an awesome but poorly known experience in uganda.

i’m going to write this post as a log of the journey, but you will have to forgive any inaccuracies as i am writing it a week or two after the fact.  i had meant to keep a journal as we went but forgot to bring paper.  live and learn.  i was originally going to have this as one massive post, but its becoming too long with way too many photos.  i am therefore going to separate it up into days and hopefully have them upload once or twice a day.  we’ll see how it goes.

rwenzori mountains - background

it’s probably wise to give a bit of background info about the climb before beginning as, like i said above, most people know very little about these mountains, even in uganda.  the rwenzori’s are on the border with the congo, and just north of lake edward (and queen elizabeth park).  the closest major town is kasese which is often a jumping off point for expeditions.

the rwenzoris contain mt stanley, and its highest peak (margerhita) is the third highest point in africa.  the rwenzoris are also known as the mountains of the moon as named by the ancient greeks who only hypothesized of their existence.  what they are also famous for in rainfall with several metres of rain per year.  this is something we would become all too familiar with.

most people who hike in the rwenzoris do what is known as the central circuit.  this is outlined in red on the map below.

a better map to outline the different huts along the trail in which most hikers will stay.  you can also see the trail leading to the summit which we took.

the central circuit is quite a challenging hiking trail but truly awe inspiring.  it takes 6-7 days, but could be done in 5 if urgent.  summiting mt stanley takes 7-8 days.  the scenery is incredible, but be prepared for wet weather.  even when it’s not raining, it’s wet out.  moisture tunnels its way into your bag and clothing never seems to dry.

all that being said it is definitely worth a try if you are the adventurous type.  here is a panoramic photo of the peaks in the area from the original expedition up mt stanley in 1906.  there is quite a lot less snow on the mountain now, and the glaciers have receded precipitously.

day 1 - nyakalengijo to nyabitamba camp

uphill.

this day was a lot more uphill than we expected.  ok, well more than i expected.  it was made more difficult by the fact i am completely out of shape.  i guess that’s what happens when you eat too much and do zero exercise for 2 months.

we began by meeting at the trekking services building and getting a briefing.  we also hired all the gear we were missing that we would need for the summit day.  this process was quite painful.  the rental equipment is overpriced and in mediocre condition.  they also have limited supplies of common sizes.  i would definitely recommend hauling your own gear if you have the choice.

all the porters gathered together hoping to be selected to come on our trip.  work is scarce in the region and while they get paid very little for hiking they often get tipped much more than they are paid.

later than expected (as we would quickly realize was commonplace) everyone was finally ready to head off.  we began hiking at about noon just as ominous looking storm clouds began to roll over the hills.  this again we would come to realize was commonplace.  

after about 30 minutes we reached the park gate.  here we signed in and read through the notice board about the mountains.  we met one of our guides - steven - and found out we were in for a treat; steven read us the entire board out loud at the rate of about 1 sentence per minute.  it was just one of the little oddities about the whole trip, but something i won’t soon forget.

we were finally off in the rwenzori national park, where we were immediately greeted with stunning views.  as we learned from our painfully slow reading we would be passing through multiple vegetation zones the first being an alpine jungle.  

the terrain is pretty spectacular with steep ridges covered in forest in all directions.  this however brings me to the word of the day: uphill.  we began to climb, and climb, and climb.  in total the day was about 1000m of ascent, but it was on a good path and the weather managed to hold long enough for us to make it to the camp so all-in-all not a bad day of hiking.

along the way we also encountered a giant earthworm, and several of the three-horned chameleons.  this little guys were very cool to watch.  after i post this i will try and upload a video of one of them walking.  definitely something cool to see.

we settled into our hut for some dinner, and unsurprisingly it socked in and started raining.  the accommodation wasn’t too bad though, consisting of several dorm style rooms with bunk beds.  

as dinner was wrapping up and we were readying for bed we got a special treat.  our guides gave us the program (schedule) for tomorrow.  what we didn’t know however was that jostus, our spokesman guide, would first give us a detailed play-by-play of the entire walk we had just done today.  it was a confusing ten minutes of circular talking.

in the end we did find out that tomorrow is likely to be a long day on some slippery rocks, so we headed off for an early bed and hoped the rain would let up.

day 2 - nyabitamba to john matte hut

slipping and sliding.

we woke up early the next morning expecting along day.  we had been briefed in the previous night’s program that the day would be 7-8 hours and would be tough going with slippery rocks.  this seemed a bit excessive given there was less than 10km to cover, but we weren’t sure what the terrain would be like and it had rained pretty heavily the night before.

the hike didn’t take nearly as long as predicted although it was quite physically difficult.  you are moving over many boulders without a very good trail and they were all wet and slippery.  this day did not involve any bogs, except a small bog just at the end of the hike.  it took us about 4 hours and we did the hike in hiking boots.  i actually think the gum boots would have been better however, as we found out on day 3 they have pretty good grip on wet and slippery rocks, better than the hiking boots.

there aren’t many pictures from the day, it was relatively uneventful.  when we arrived to john matte hut the sun came out.  there was a wonderful view of the river which we swam in; it was frigid.  the water is glacier melt and couldn’t have been more than 5 C.  very refreshing though.

i love to swim in fast moving water, even when it’s freezing cold.

we also got some brief views of some of the surrounding peaks, and mt stanley appeared but only faintly and for a second.

above: portal peaks earlier in the evening and then at sunset.  we passed these peaks (about 4300m) on the hike up the valley from nyabitamba.

below: mt baker through the clouds.  mt baker is the most technically difficult mountain in the rwenzori range.  mt stanley is behind and to the right but it can’t be seen through the clouds.

we enjoyed playing some cards in the hut in the evening before heading to bed.  tomorrow we would be tackling the upper and lower bigo bogs.  these bogs are the reason gum boots are required equipment on the hike.  we would find out soon how critical they actually were.

day 3 - john matte hut to bujuku hut

boots, bogs, and boardwalks.

if day 3 had to be summed up in one word it would definitely be: wet.  we started hiking in the morning and within 30 minutes we reached the lower bigo bog.  this bog was hardly a challenge as the whole thing was covered in a boardwalk.  there was some challenge with missing boards and awkward spacing, but overall nothing to fret.  

as you can see the bog provided fantastic views and spectacular scenery.  it is an environment you never normally would go to but the fog and mist made it surreal.

just as we finished crossing the bog the rain started.  it wouldn’t really stop for the entire rest of the day.  after crossing lower bigo bog there is a steep section of trail.  this section rises about 500m very quickly but is a relatively well kept trail.

at the top of this hill we reached the upper bigo bog.  this is the bog that is famous on the mountain for being deep with mud.  if you make a wrong step in the mud you can easily end up thigh or waist deep.

several times we resorted to walking through rivers because it was easier going than the mud.  i thought the whole thing was really fun, and a nice change of pace from the uphill slog of the previous two days.

after passing through upper bigo bog we reached lake bujuku.  there was another bog surrounding lake bujuku which was probably the most treacherous.  it was still raining at this point, but we knew we were getting close to the campsite.

a couple of stunning views back down the valley towards lake bujuku.  the groundsels are these large tree like plants that grow only in the afroalpine terrain of east africa.  the rwenzoris are one of three places they can be found, along with mt kenya, and mt kilimanjaro. (top photo by kent moore)

finally after about 4 hours of hiking in the pissing rain we reached bujuku hut.  they had triple decker bunk beds which was interesting to say the least.  i, of course, slept on the top bunk, but it wasn’t too each to get up or down in the middle of the night.

after getting into camp some of us wanted to hike back down to the lake since the weather had cleared and we were in need of some warming up.  kent decided to walk out onto the sandbar to look at the shoreline.  unfortunately for him however he took one step too far and found himself stuck in quicksand.  my dad and i were too far away to help him, but just the right distance to snap some photos and laugh at his expense.  don’t worry he made it out fine, and only a little filthy.

we had a quick dinner and luckily we were able to huddle near a fire at night since all of our clothes were soaked.  i did my best to dry a bunch of my clothes with moderate success.  nothing really seemed to ever get 100 percent dry though.

day 4 - bujuku hut to elena hut

preparation.

this was another wet day.  we left bujuku in the morning and hiked up towards elena hut.  elena is where we would stay before making our summit attempt early in the morning on day 5.  the climb was steep and difficult going.  there were supposed to be really nice views looking back onto lake bujuku and up towards mt stanley but unfortunately it was completely socked in.  the views will have to wait.

as we hiked up we reached our first snow.  pretty crazy to start seeing snow at the equator especially after being in the warm weather of uganda for so long.  most ugandans have never seen snow before.

this snow was just temporary from the precipitation that had happened in the past couple days.  it won’t be until tomorrow that we reach the snow line and move onto glaciers, although the glaciers used to come down much farther, all the way past elena hut.

my dad wearing his horribly stylish, but i will give him somewhat practical poncho.  he was not too thrilled with the continuing rain.

finally we reached elena hut, which is quite basic.  it is a fraction of the size of the other huts and not somewhere you would want to hang out for long periods of time.

above: a nice view of elena hut as we descended from the summit.  you can see here how barren it is around the hut, and it’s relative exposure.  this whole area used to under a glacier less than 60 years ago.

set on a rocky outcropping, the hut is very exposed and it got really cold.  it didn’t help that all of our porters were delayed, and so our bags took over an hour longer than us to arrive.  let me tell you it’s not fun to be soaking wet with no dry clothes to change into when its only 2 or 3 degrees out.

luckily andrea’s bag arrived and she busted out her emergency blanket and canada goose jacket.  real life savers.

above: andrea is too cold to get out of her sleeping bag but wanted to take a photo of the mountains out the front door of the hut anyways.

below: the hut itself was pretty basic with simple mattresses on the ground and a max capacity of seven (just able to fit our whole group).

we settled in as best we could for the night with peaks surrounding us as the light faded.

we went to bed early preparing for our 4:30am wake-up, and 5:30am planned departure.  it had started to rain again, but all we could do at this point was pray for the weather to clear so we might at least have one or two views as we hiked.  i mean that’s what we came for right.

day 5 (part 1) - elena hut to margherita peak

safety is over-rated anyways…

i split this day into two parts because the day was really long.  the first part will be from morning to the summit, and the second will be the way back down to kitandara.  below is a map showing the mountains in the area both in 1906 and 1996.  as you can see there has been a significant reduction in the size of the glaciers over the last century.  the glaciers on the rwenzoris are some of the fast receeding glaciers in the world.

elena hut, where we spent the night before the summit is at the bottom of coronation glacier.  from there the plan was to hike up to the bottom of elena glacier, traverse the glacier and transfer onto another rocky section.  after crossing the rocky section we would reach the bottom of stanley glacier.  a steep ascent up stanley glacier would lead us to the bottom of the peak, and a simple walk up a rocky ridge would lead us to the summit of margherita peak.  this was the plan anyways.

above: you can see in the above picture some of the glaciers and peaks from elena hut.  to the left is coronation glacier sitting in the saddle next to savoia peak.  the snowy section to the far right is the bottom of elena glacier.

we began very early in the morning, with a 4:15am wake-up.  we were supposed to take breakfast at 4:30am and begin hiking at 5:00am exactly as our guide jostus put it.  in typical african fashion though breakfast wouldn’t arrive til 5:15am, and we didn’t leave until almost six.

above: kent and one of our guides lazurus trekking just as the first light began to come through the clouds.

the rocky ascent in the dark was made more difficult by the heavy rain the night before and the mountaineering boots we had to wear for the glaciers ahead.  it was quite steep, and not something to take lightly.  this was difficult scrambling in good circumstances and the consequences of a fall would be grave.  we were at least 2 or 3 days walk from any rescue.

the route had a couple fixed ropes over some of the more difficult or exposed sections. there was however not a single piece of safety gear in sight.  no caribiner attachments, no ascenders, no helmets.  i have never been a big fan of safety gear, but i will admit this section in the dark made me very worried.  

i would therefore seriously consider attempting the summit in heavy rains, or if you are not quite comfortable in your own abilities.

ok with that out of the way, we all made it safely through and the scrambling became considerably easier in the light of day.  we reached the bottom of elena glacier, roped up, and strapped on our cramp-ons.

elena glacier is quite flat, and not physically difficult.  cramp-ons and ice axes are not really necessary, and since you will need to remove your cramp-ons on the second section of rock, you may be able to save some time switching back and forth by simply leaving them in your pack, but conditions may change from what we experienced.

although we had some clear-ish skies before we got onto elena glacier, once we started across the glacier heavy clouds rolled in.  these got worse as we crossed the second rocky section.

the second rocky section is more physically difficult than the first, and it has higher consequences for mistakes than the first.  i found it much easier though because i was benefitted by the light of day.  there were again fixed ropes, but these were used merely as a hand line.  

as you reach the bottom of stanley glacier you reach the most technical section of the climb.  there is a steep section of glacier (about 65 degrees) with hard packed ice.  our guides climbed up and put in an ice screw.  what we noticed later was that they had simply pushed it into the snow, and it was unlikely to hold any weight if stressed.  good to know we were in able hands …

(photo kent moore)

once on stanley glacier you begin a traverse.  the glacier starts flat and soft packed making for easy walking, but towards the middle there was a steep and icy section.  this took some practice with the cramp-ons to stay upright.  the flat light and low-visibility were not helpful either.

above two: the final section of stanley glacier just below the peak ridge.  the clouds were very thick at this point and visibility was minimal.

below two: andrea and our guide stephen pushing up and over the last steep section of stanley glacier.  most of the hard work is done at this point.

as you come up and over the final section of the glacier there are impressive hanging ice cornices.  let’s just say i wouldn’t want to be around if one were to crack off though.

the final section of the ascent is a steep rocky section leading to the summit ridge.  this section was the final major obstacle to the summit, but compared to previous challenges should be very manageable.

above: patrick scrambling up the final obstacle to the summit.  yes those are fixed ropes, but there is no belay in sight.  hand-over-handing up the rope is the only way forward.

we ditched our cramp-ons and made the final 100m walk up the rocky ridge to the summit.  as we walked a minor miracle occurred also.  the clouds, that made our visibility near zero, just seemed to melt away within 20m of the summit.  somehow we climbed over them and reached the summit, just 4 and a half hours after we left elena hut.

above: the summit of margherita peak on mt stanley (5109m asl).  the highest point in uganda, and the third highest in africa.

below: our guide william and me standing in the dr congo.  

the summit of mt stanley is shared by the congo and uganda, and so we technically crossed the border, during a civil war without a visa.  haha, that’s my story anyways and i’m sticking to it.

thankfully the skies had cleared as much as could be expected and we had some awesome views out over the clouds.

above: dylan taking a detour out into the congo on a steep rocky ridge.

below: most of the gang celebrating our success on the summit in the sunshine.

(photo kevin kain)

andrea in typical fashion wanted to do a handstand on the summit.  it was not exactly an ideal space to do it since it was covered in rocks and quite uneven.  nevertheless she gave it a go.  the results weren’t the greatest as she lost her balance on the uneven hill and fell backwards.  luckily she was fine, and my dad was able to capture this wonderful photo of the attempt.

(photo kevin kain)

(photo kevin kain)

so we made it to the summit and even got some decent weather for it.  i will remember the feeling of reaching the summit of every major mountain i have ever climbed as each is drastically different.  margherita has a special place because it is the first mountain i felt legitimately uncomfortable on for certain sections.  it is much more full-on than i expected, but in a wonderful way this makes it so special.  there is nowhere else like this in africa, and the remoteness of difficulty add to the alure.  

this is not a summit i will soon forget, but i don’t think i will be in a rush to give it a second go around.

day 5 (part 2) - margherita peak to kitandara camp

heavy air and complete exhaustion.

this is the second part of our summit day and is about the way back down.  coming down always feels amazing but is it also the most treacherous part of a climb.  climbers are often physically and mentally exhausted, and poor decisions are common.  down-climbing on rock and glacier is also more technically challenging than going up.

we spent about an hour on the summit resting and enjoying our accomplishment in the wonderful sunshine, but by about 11:30am we needed to head back down if we were going to make it to kitandara before sundown.

above: the view back down the ridge.  it does look pretty menacing from up above.

as we descended the clear weather from the summit followed us and it made for some fantastic views of the mountains behind us.

above: mt elena in the distance as seen from stanley glacier.  (photo andrea conroy).

below: stephen, our guide, posing for a photo.  he was quite eager to have his photo taken as often as possible.

after traversing stanley glacier we reached the steep section at the end of the glacier.  we essentially hand-over-handed down the rope again practicing great safety.  

(photo andrea conroy)

(photos kevin kain)

looking back up from the bottom of the glacier you can see the route we took across traversing the glacier down from the peak.  we had now reached the rocky section between stanley and elena glaciers.  off came the crampons, some scrambling was in order.

above: a good view of our path down from the summit.  our trail is visible on the steep section of the glacier to the right.  (photo kevin kain).

we crossed the rocky section was easier coming in this direction.  it had also dried up from the morning and so was less slippery.  this was a considerable relief as we were all pretty tired and not looking forward to too much difficult scrambling.

we reached elena glacier and began to cross the glacier.  we had some very nice, but brief views back towards mt stanley as the clouds rolled through.

above: part of the group posing with mt stanley in the background.  alexandra peak to the left, and margherita to the right, partially in the clouds.  (photo kevin kain).

below: a nice view of mt stanley during a brief clearing.  alexandra peak to the left, and margherita to the right, partially in the clouds.

above: andrea popping a handstand in the middle of elena glacier with mt stanley in the background.

below: group posing with mt savoia in the background.  this mountain is actually entirely in the dr congo and not within uganda at all.

our good weather was fleeting and we walked in and out of clouds as we traversed the rest of the glacier finally reaching the last rocky section before elena camp.

(photo kevin kain)

we descended onto the ridge above elena hut where we had some stunning views of lake bujuku and the valley we had come up through.  this was however to be the last of the nice weather for the day.  it proceeded to cloud in and then rain later in the day.  not at all uncommon, even in the dry season.

the final descent was much easier in the drier conditions and in the light.  but what we also saw was there was some real exposure and a slip or injury here would not end well.

finally we reached elena hut again around 2:30pm and had a quick lunch.  we also got to take our mountaineering boots off (the equivalent of skiing boots) and put on our gum boots.  oh man did that feel incredible.

from elena we had a nice view looking up at coronation glacier.  you can see the layering in the ice formed over many years.

(photo kevin kain)

above: a good photo outlining our entire route on the summit day.  the black line begins at approximately elena hut.

after breaking for lunch for around an hour or an hour and a half we pressed on to make sure we would reach kitandara before dark.

we descended quickly over relatively easy walking terrain to the kitandara lakes.  these lakes are quite pretty.  the campsite is situated right on the second lake.

the lakes are not as close as we had expected, which made the end of the day seem really long, especially since there was a thick bog on the trail between the two lakes.  we did eventually make it in just as it began to pour rain.  

we enjoyed some snacks and our books as we celebrated having summited margherita peak.

day 6 - kitandara camp to guy yeoman camp

stiff legs.

this day was a bit trying for a couple reasons.  there is a long descent over difficult terrain with slippery rocks and wet branches and all of this is made more difficult since your legs are still knackered from summiting the day before.

we started a bit later, about 10am, which was a really nice sleep in.  we woke up looking out on the tranquility of one of the kitandara lakes.  i noticed this morning for the first time we hadn’t seen any people not with our group since the first night.  this is a shocking change from climbing somewhere like kilimanjaro where even in the off season the mountain has hundreds of people on it at any time.

we had some clear weather in the early morning but of course this didn’t last long.  by the time we started hiking the clouds had rolled in and blocked any views we might have had.  it also began soaking the already slippery trail making it especially hazardous.

a rapid ascent to the top of freshfield pass is supposed to reveal stunning views of the kitandara lakes and the drc.  if you are so fortunate to see this please email me the photos because all we saw were clouds.

freshfield pass is a relatively flat traverse with colourful mosses growing out of the wet rocks and thick mud.  it is from here that you begin the long two-day descent to nyakalengija.  

the rocks here are quite slippery especially when wet.  there is hardly a trail at all, but more you just follow the rocky outcropping next to the natural water outlets during rains.  this means that the trail is almost always wet and quite dangerous if you don’t pay attention.

above: andrea and kevin descending carefully over the rocks with our guide lazurus leading the way.

we pressed on down the valley and were rewarded with stunning views of the steep walled canyons and ridges flaking off the sides of the large peaks nearby.  

as we desceded further down the steep walled ridges into the valley the forest thickened.  the sparse afroalpine forest was now thickening and more jungle-like.  it made for some incredible scenery with the swirling fog and cloud.

when we finally reached the bottom of the valley we transitioned into none other than swampland.  it was definitely nice to be on a relatively flat ground for the last 30 minutes of the day.  my legs were exhausted and sore at this point from the long day yesterday and the treacherous slippery conditions today.

as we walked through the swamp we were greeted by a welcome site in the rwenzoris: the sun.  

above: the sun created wonderful light on the diverse forest flora with mist still fresh in the air.  it was also refreshingly warm after the days of rain.

we crossed the swampy area and finally reached guy yeoman camp set near to the river.

we settled in and enjoyed some snacks we had still left.  it was pretty good we had these snacks since the dinner was chicken stew.  the problem: the chicken was brought up, dead, six days earlier.  just because the temperature is a bit closer to a fridge doesn’t mean i want to eat chicken left out for six days.  needless to say it didn’t smell too good either.

the original plan was to spend two more nights making the final descent to nyakalengija and spend one more night at nyabitaba (the campsite we stayed at on the first night).  we decided that we would rather push the entire way out in one day and enjoy a warm shower in the village - and some chicken that wasn’t completely foul.

day 7 - guy yeoman to nyakalengijo

down and out.

from guy yeoman to the park gate we still had a long descent (about 1800m).  from what we had been told the first half of the day was technically and physically difficult with steep, slippery, rocky terrain.  there were also several large bogs to pass through.  it would be similar to day 6.  

i woke up in the morning with light in my eyes.  at first i was angry.  who is shining that stinking light in my eyes, but as my head cleared i realized it was coming in through a crack in the wall and just happened to fall on my face.

just my luck; i rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.  wait a second … there is light shining in my face.  sunlight.  it’s sunny out!  this was welcome news as other than the summit we hadn’t really had any lasting sunlight.

i quickly rolled out of bed grabbed my camera and threw on my gumboots.  i figured i had to seize the opportunity and head back up the valley to get some pictures before breakfast.

in the light we could see the stunning panorama of mountains we had walked down from the day before.

the light was sensational and the fine mist gave the morning a special glow.  i continued up the valley meeting up with kent and michael each enjoying the sun.  i headed towards a waterfall we had passed the day before hoping to get a good view in the light.

the light continued to be amazing.  i hiked back up about 30 min through swamp and beside rivers.  the sun cast its stunning rays over the lobelias and groundsels making for fantastic photos.

it was definitely a nice start to the day and really was worth waking up for.  in the rwenzoris sunshine and clear skies are something to be cherished regardless of what time they show up at.

the descent at the start of the day was quite tricky.  the trail roughly follows small river networks over rocky sections of the mountain.  this likely made “trail-making” easier back in the early 1900’s when the trail was created.  it however makes the descent treacherous.  

the rivers make sure the rock is always wet, despite our good weather in the morning, and moss is abundant.  there were more than a few falls this day, and i managed to slip on a tree root and smoke my knee.  this made the rest of the day that much more difficult, so watch your step carefully.

above: kent descends following jostus, one of our guides, down a steep rocky section.  the moss makes staying on your feet especially difficult, but the gum boots actually faired better than expected.

we had some stunning views out over the valley we were heading down towards.  this valley would lead us most of the way to nyabitaba ridge which we would then follow down to nyabitaba campsite.

we gathered ourselves and enjoyed the views out but acutely aware it was still quite a long way down and it looked steep.  

the final difficult stretch of the descent is a steep section by kichunchu rock.  there is a near vertical drop of about 50m leading to much flatter ground below.  from this point on the day is mostly bog walking and gentle slopes.

above: patrick and one of our guides, stephen, at the stop of the kichunchu descent.  as you can see it is quite steep and a ways down to the others waiting at the bottom.  a fall here would be very bad.

there is a make-shift staircase built onto the rock, but what you can’t see here is how broken the stairs were.  they shifted and swayed as you stepped on them, threatening to crack at any moment.

before the stairs were built porters allegedly would promise their first born daughter to any other porter who would carry their bag for them as a fall near the top would likely be fatal.  lucky for us the stairs are now in place!

slightly relieved we all arrived safely at the bottom and gathered ourselves, resting briefly at the bottom.  it is quite impressive to look back up the hill at the massive distance you have descended in such a short period of time.

the second half of the day, following the descent at kichunchu, is much simpler.  we met up with the trail from the first day just before breaking for lunch at nyabitaba.  along the way we followed the route of the mubuku river crossing it twice along the way.  we descended from the afroalpine forest into the very surreal bamboo forests.  we also had some interesting conversations with our guides about panda bears.

below: the massive bamboo trees towered over us as we hiked the trail.  (photo kent moore).

we reached nyabitaba about an hour after kichuchu and took a break for lunch.  at this time we also gathered all the porters together to tell them about their tips as we wouldn’t have a chance at the bottom.  it is always a good idea to tell everyone how much you intend to tip them so that the tips get split evenly and you avoid someone pocketing more than their fair share.

we explained to the porters that we would be tipping each of the 25 of them 7 dollars per day for 5 days, so a total of 35 USD.  their reaction was priceless as they jumped for joy and spun round.  these guys knew they would be having a big party tonight, we just hoped they saved some of it rather than spending it all on booze and prostitutes.

35 dollars doesn’t seem like that much for 7 days of hard work, but its probably 3 or 4 times their salary, and almost as much as a typical ugandan salary in a month.

just before he left for the final descent to nyakelengija it began to pour rain.  nothing we couldn’t handle though.  we set off running down the final stretch which was supposed to take 3-4 hours.  warm water and a bed was now in reach.

the way down ended up taking just under two hours since we were sprinting the whole way.  we also stopped for a quick swim in the river.  again it was frigid, but oh so refreshing.

summary

i felt like i should do a final post summarizing the entire trip in the rwenzoris.  this is especially important because i imagine many people didn’t bother to read the detailed posts about each day.  i’ve also included some pictures from other sources of the rwenzoris in clearer weather, and historic pictures from the first expedition in 1906.

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above: the range in 1906.  the glaciers have receded dramatically in the past century.  climbing the rwenzoris was really special since it isn’t clear if these glaciers will be around forever.

overall the trip to the rwenzoris and summiting mt stanley was an incredible experience.  it blew me away how different these mountains are from other mountains in africa, and other across the world actually.

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some comments on the trip as a whole.  

it rains.  alot.  expect it to rain every day and take any sunshine as a blessing.  the rain itself isn’t that bad.  the real problem is that nothing dries.  the air is so consistently moist that everything is always damp.  moisture will find its way into everything and so expect all your clothes to be damp, even if you haven’t worn them yet.  

since everything is always wet and the temperature hovers in the 0-5 degrees celsius range, it gets very cold at times.  bring lots of warm clothes and expect some to get wet.  this being said the summit day is not nearly as cold as kili or other mountains, and overall the extreme cold temperature of some other mountains wasn’t present.  it’s more a slow wearing on you with the wet and the cold.

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above: mt stanley’s two peaks (alexandra on the left and margherita on the right).  pray for views half this nice on your summit day, but don’t expect them.  the weather is can be trying.

gum boots are your new best friend.  the rwenzori hiking circuit is essentially a bog for 3/4 of the trail.  expect to be wearing your gum boots for 5/8 days (possibly more).  gum boots can be rented from the trekking services for 7 dollars, but they can also be bought at a bata store in uganda for 28000 shillings, about 11 dollars.  this is what we did as it seemed like a much better value, and the boots can be given away to porters or guides after the trek.

the guides at the rwenzori trekking services try very hard, but they are very poorly trained in mountaineering or glacier skills.  nothing is overly technical, but if you have zero experience and aren’t feeling very confident, then a summit attempt may not be a good idea.  the summit day is more intense than i had anticipated and it wasn’t comforting to see your guides incorrectly setting up gear or having you proceed with no safety gear in place.

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above: steven and jostus.  two of our guides from the rwenzori mountain trekking services.  they were nice enough guys, and knowledgeable of the area, but don’t rely heavily on their technical mountaineering skills.

what i really want to stress is that you are quite isolated on the mountain with no back-up system.  there is a reasonable amount of danger of minor to moderate injury with a difficult rescue.  for me, this isolation and risk was what made the mountain special.  you are responsible for you own safety, and you must be smart and careful.  i don’t want to sound like an idiot flinging myself into danger, it wasn’t that intense; just be aware that you will be relying on yourself to double check things, to hold on tightly, and to not make mistakes.  this may not be ideal for everyone.

the hike is incredible with stunning views in all directions.  you walk through diverse terrains that span for low-land jungles to glaciers in the space of a few days.  there is not many places like this anywhere in the world, and certainly not in africa.  these mountains are incredible, and relatively unknown.  the set-up and effort to trek in them is definitely more than for kili or mt kenya, but they are in my mind worth every extra minute.

the rwenzoris is the perfect uganda destination for anyone who is adventurous and for anyone who wants to go where most others wouldn’t.  don’t miss out, but come prepared these mountains don’t make themselves easy to access.

i’ll leave you with some final photos from the 1906 expedition up mt stanley.  hopefully this series of posts sheds some light and some adventurous people out there will give mt stanley a shot.

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